To Live Again (1969) is a flawed work from a very fruitful period of Robert Silverberg’s career. The ideas are original and well-conceived but a downright disgusting strain of misogyny and sexism permeates virtually every page. Bluntly put, I cannot recall a single instance where a female character does anything without the shape, size, and clothed or unclothed state of her breasts mentioned and dwelled on at length. Similarly, each female character attempts to seduce all the men in sight (including relatives). It’s a shame really because our heroine Risa, over the course of the novel, develops and evolves from a headstrong child into an intelligent and self-sufficient women to be reckoned with.
The central scientific concept is a standard one: the ability to transplant the mind of a dead person into a living being. Silverberg expands this trope in a series of wonderful and original directions. A human with a transplant does not lose his own personality. Instead the host consults with the transplants and draws on their memories/personalities. Extremely powerful personalities have been known to overtake their host’s mind if it is weak — “going dybbuk.”
The rich and wealthy procure multiple transplants for artistic reasons (for example, to appreciate sculpture), as savvy business moves (using the mind of your dead rival), or even to increase one’s abilities in bed. The transplants often mature their hosts or drive them insane.
Brief Plot Summary
John Roditis and Mark Kaufmann are fierce business rivals who both desire to procure the mind of Paul Kaufmann, an extraordinarily powerful and savvy individual who has the potential to take over his host. The Scheffing Institute — which oversee the recording of the minds of wealthy/remarkable people when they are still alive to store their personas — refuses to allow Mark Kaufmann the persona since Paul was his uncle and favors Roditis. A large portion of the work concerns the maneuvering of both men (and Mark’s lover Elena) in order to acquire the transplant.
The subplot, which has important ramifications for the central story, follows sixteen-year old Risa and her acquisition of her first transplant. Risa is a headstrong girl who runs around flaunting her body (argh, Silverberg, why?). After she acquires her transplant Tandy she slowly matures. From Tandy’s memories Risa uncovers that her transplant was murdered. Murders are extremely uncommon since the penalty is the termination of Scheffing process recordings and thus no future lives (albeit, incarnated in the mind of someone else).
Silverberg abandons one of his more interesting threads creations about half way through the novel — a bastardized pseudo-Buddhism “religion” expanding rapidly from its California epicenter that incorporates the Scheffing process into its theology. Becoming a transplant in a host after death is a strange form of reincarnation. Sadly, it ends up more as a simplistic plot device by the end of the work.
To Live Again contains multiple well-conceived concepts and an interesting plot but its virulent strain of misogyny overshadows all the positives.
5 thoughts on “Book Review: To Live Again, Robert Silverberg (1969)”
Sounds like a book straight out of his New Wave period of writing. Also, the plot sounds similar to The Second Trip. Did you ever read that one?
I haven’t read The Second Trip yet. To Live Again is by far more sexist than the majority of the other works I’ve read of his from the same period — albeit, many have fewer female characters and thus less chance to reveal his opinions.
For example, The World Inside (my favorite of his works) extrapolates a world where producing children is the most important thing — thus, men wander the halls etc. It’s somewhat different than the comments which crop up in To Live Again and his other works.
This brings to mind The Glass Tower and the abundance of sex mention in that story. Don’t get me wrong, talk of sex can help build a story and move a plot forward, that is until it starts to seem like the sex is being talked about more than the plot. I kind of think that this was just part of the genre in the early years. I hear Asimov was pretty raunchy in his early years as well.
This is one that I had on my “to read” list, but kept on getting pushed back in order to read something that had more interest for me at the time, now I don’t feel so bad in skipping over it. Thanks for the heads up.
The over-abundance of sex is exactly what deters me from reading any further Silverberg. I’ve read three of his novels and each one is just loaded with it to a predictable degree. It adds zero to each plot; it just gets tedious (like violence and gore-porn in some modern novels). i once owned Tower of Glass but after reading the Silverberg books I had, I sold it without even reading it. Good instinct on my part. I’ve got lots of other books to read.
Silverberg goes way overboard in comparison to others writing at the same time. I guess what gets me is not so much the presence of sex per se but his treatment of the female characters and their motivations and desires. This is the problem with To Live Again — the female characters are only interested in sex and power (although Risa does evolve). Silverberg does construct interesting futures in The World Inside for example where proliferate sex is fine because CHILDREN are the ultimate good. This is a little different because The World Inside‘s world entails this… To Live Again‘s world doesn’t in any ostensible way and hence the views of the women can be attributed more to Silverberg’s personal views — and thus I’m bothered.
Does this make sense?
Sex solely as a tool to get 14 year old boys to read it and thus not necessary for the plot = bad
Sex as sole motivating factor of all female characters = bad
Sex as an inherent and socially relevant part of the proposed future world = fine.